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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - March 24, 2010

From: Cranston, RI
Region: Northeast
Topic: Trees
Title: Need help identifying a tree with wintergreen-flavored bark that grew in my backyard during my youth in Cumberland, RI.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills

QUESTION:

Growing up in Cumberland, Rhode Island (a town in the northern part of the state) there was a tree in our backyard with thin, brown peel-able bark. The bark itself had white stripes. Under the layer of brown bark was a layer of green, wintergreen-flavored bark. Growing up we ate this dark green layer and chewed the light green sticks left behind after we had stripped the bark away. It was positioned in a fairly shady part of the yard between evergreens. Please tell me, what was this tree?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants has found that it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify a plant from a written description, and usually asks the questioner to provide a picture of the plant in question. From the use of the past tense in your question, I surmise that a photo is not available.

However, your description provides an invaluable clue: wintergreen-flavored bark! With this information, I am going to conclude that the tree you used to eat was Sweet Birch Betula lenta (sweet birch).   In earlier times, these trees were the major source of wintergreen oil (methyl salicylate), but most of it is manufactured synthetically today.

This link from Purdue University provides information about the tree and its products.

The UConn Plant Database  has numerous images of the tree.

 

 

 

 

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